Age & Hometown: 29; Durban, South Africa
Current Role: A Broadway debut performance as Simba, the disillusioned, self-exiled prince who matures into the King of Pride Rock, in Disney’s long-running musical The Lion King.
A New New Yorker: South African native Gumbi is the international face of The Lion King, appearing in ads for the musical worldwide since debuting in the Australian company in 2004. In spite of his experience, he speaks modestly about the honor of playing Simba for the show's forthcoming 15th Broadway anniversary. “I know I’m good at what I do, but I start to think maybe Broadway is too far; maybe I could never make it there,” Gumbi muses. “It’s the pinnacle of the theater industry! So when it happened, it was the realization of a dream, but something I wasn’t sure would happen for me.” Now that he’s here, the young actor hopes to experience all that New York has to offer. “I want to go to Harlem and Brooklyn and all the places you hear about when you watch TV,” he says with a smile. “I want to be able to say I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. I’d like to hang around New Yorkers and see what kind of life they live. I want to learn as much as I can.”
How Do I Love Thee: Asked about keeping his performance fresh after eight years in The Lion King, Gumbi notes, “The fact that it's an African show connects on a certain level with me. I enjoy playing Simba [because] the character is similar to me: playful and always running around. The show has made me grow as a person, and I'll love it for as long as I live.” After all, it was The Lion King that facilitated his first plane ride, took him around the world and even introduced him to his girlfriend of seven years, actress Amy Edwards. “She’s Australian, and she joined the Australian company as a swing,” Gumbi recalls. “We got together after six months and been together ever since. When I moved to London to do Lion King, she moved, as well, to do Priscilla Queen of the Desert. But she’s always wanted to be in TV and films, so she is now in L.A.” So far, their long-distance romance is going strong: “She came here for two weeks and saw my premiere. We want to see each other every month.”
Impressing Mom: A former accounting major, Gumbi almost missed out on the lights of Broadway and seeing his face on billboards around the world. “When I was growing up I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Gumbi remembers, so he followed his accountant mother's lead. Despite acing his first year at university, Gumbi’s heart was not in the business world, so he dropped out to pursue acting, much to Mom's dismay. In fact, his mother remained skeptical even when Gumbi joined The Lion King. “She said, 'I hope these people aren’t using you to sell drugs,'” he says with a laugh. “Then I started sending money home, and pictures of people I was working with, but she still wasn’t convinced. When the show came to South Africa and she came to see it, then she could see the work I was doing. She was just blown away. She had never seen me perform, so it was this amazing moment for me and for her.”